When I first started reading novels in the British Library Crime Classics series I used to bypass the introductions because I just wanted to get stuck into the stories. But for some reason on one occasion I did read the introduction and I’ve never looked back. Martin Edwards’ expertise and unobtrusive prologues are valuable additions to the reading experience as a whole and I look forward now to reading them as well as the stories. I vaguely knew he wrote crime novels of his own but this is the first I have read.
And what a treat it is! I read it in a couple of sittings for it really is unputdownable. And if that’s not a word, well, it is now! Gallows Court is a rich, dark, atmospheric tale written in the style of the Golden Age of Crime novels. The plot is complex and labyrinthine and, boy, you need to pay attention!! For nothing is quite as it seems. I am actually quite breathless at the breadth of plotting that Mr. Edwards has produced. It’s quite remarkable.
The book also has a cast of characters that all play their part and their development is so skilful. I can’t think of a comparable work with so many characters all so well drawn jumping off the page at you. Even the dead characters have an imposing presence!! I am thinking of Judge Savernake! The narrative style is flowing and accessible begging you to read on. It’s so authentic that you believe it’s not just set in the 1930s but written then too. The language, the historical detail, the police procedures - wonderful. There’s a dual narrative with first person diary entries from a character, Juliet Brentano. Of her I’ll say no more! The rest is straightforward third person narrative.
The two main protagonists Jacob Flint a keen, young journalist and Rachel Savernake, enigmatic, wealthy heiress, daughter of the above mentioned judge, are perfect as opposites. And again I applaud the depth of characterisation. The story is a complex one and I doubt that even if I wanted to offer spoilers that I could such are the intricacies of the writing. But Jacob’s predecessor has been injured after an accident and Jacob finds himself at the scene of a high profile suicide. This is the catalyst for the rest of the story which takes us into some distasteful aspects of gentlemans’ society of the time, corruption, depravity, violence. The titular Gallows Court is a creepy location frequented by lawyers among others. There are sub plots that take us to a remote Irish island. It’s a locked room mystery, a codes and cyphers mystery, an identity mystery. In the hands of some writers this might be get tangled and muddled there is so much going on and so many pertinent characters who demand our attention. It might be easy for the writer to lose their way. But this doesn’t happen under Mr. Edwards' skilful pen.
Much as I revere the writing I can actually see this story translating well to the screen, large or small. I think it would make an excellent historical crime series and I’m already casting in my head!! That is surely another testament to the quality of the writing? it is so easy to picture it all.